Savoring the 612



I feel like I read or saw an interview with Iggy Pop a few years ago wherein he discussed the fact that now that he lives in Miami, he begins his days just after sunrise with a 30-minute swim in the ocean. Iggy poetically expounded on his daily routine by marveling that when the weather is just right, the solar orb of our sun dapples the water with orange and pink, transforming the ocean into liquid light.
It thoroughly impressed me that after having lived a hand-to-mouth life of grit, loss, exuberance and excess in the alleyways and filthy ballrooms of every urban metropolis from Tacoma to Berlin, that his reverence of a routine natural phenomena struck him with such awe.
I am not Iggy Pop (though I think at one point in my life I would have liked to be), nor do I have access to the ocean. I am, however, working toward a morning routine that opens me up to the sun in Minnesota and the open, loving arms of Mother Nature in the a.m.
While I don’t yet get up at dawn (it’s on my agenda – I’m getting there) by 8 a.m. I have usually brewed coffee, offered my wife a good morning smooch, and downed my salt water and fresh lemon gulper. I step outside and plant my feet on the concrete patio behind our home in south Minneapolis, point my face east, and bow. Then I relax my back and bend forward to stretch the tightness of sleep out of my back, calves and hamstrings. Everything resists, so I breathe deeply into my belly; in through the nose (taking in fresh air and any Vitamin D the early hour has to offer) and out through the mouth (expelling toxins and bad energy). I breathe that way for about a minute, more if I feel like I need it.
I rise up slowly and begin a spinal twist exercise I learned from a Qi Gong teacher years ago. It gets my blood flowing, wakes up the kidneys and helps me feel like the wizened old men I always see doing Tai Chi on the brick piazzas of San Francisco city parks in the opening credits of 1990’s rom-coms.
Then I collect crap. Literally.
We have a 70-pound smooth collie named Chester. He’s a swarthy, muscular blonde boy who looks, quite frankly, like a well-heeled dingo. Our backyard is his litter box. While he tends to favor certain plots, he’s not averse to mixing it up for the sake of surprise or his own convenience.
During the first summer of COVID, I built a sort of zen garden beneath the blue spruce in our backyard: pine mulch, boulders, a rock sculpture, a temple lantern, and a fist-sized meditating buddha facing due south for no particular reason. When the weather is warm enough, I prefer to light a stick of incense, jam it into the rocks and meditate in his good company.
Dog crap is the problem. Chester isn’t averse to lightening his load in the shade of the tree or anywhere near it. In the past, with long work hours in restaurant kitchens and no real morning routine, I’d let this go a few days. I usually only took care of cleanup when it became unsightly and awful on the olfactory. On more than one occasion, I was in half lotus and finding my way to bliss when my inward breathing took me away from a fast track to internal galaxies and dropped me on the front door of a sun-baked outdoor dog latrine. I would have to stop, find the offending aromatic landmine, scoop it and bag it, and try to get zen again. Often, I’d be frustrated and try to do it quickly, looking down the road at an approaching late morning appointment or afternoon meeting. Losing time to doo-doo made me feel cheated out of precious minutes in the ocean of eternity. Inevitably my rushing would lead me to overlook another pile, which I would scoop up, bag and dispose, leading to more lost time and more frustration.
I found myself cursing at the task on a recent afternoon – literally asking myself aloud why one dog had to dump so much – when I was backhanded across the cheek with the realization that the excrement would never end. As long as I had a dog (and I can’t imagine never having a dog) there would always be poop in the backyard – rain or shine, summer or snowpack – and it would be up to me to shovel it and bag it. As unpleasant as it is, the circumstance is eternal. A Groundhog Day of dung.
Accepting that the repetitive slow bending, scooping and bagging of crap was a minor natural movement workout – a sort of gentle punctuation mark to my stretching and Qi Gong – led me also to understand that if I tended to the turds as they happened (rather than just when I felt like it or when they were too numerous to ignore) it simply made for lighter work that, once addressed, was over quickly.
That’s where the minor satori came in:
The stinky unpleasantries of life are most easily disposed of when addressed as they occur.
As someone who has spent a lifetime engaging in the unproductive emotional practice of stepping over my own pain or telling myself I’ll address it later, the aforementioned lesson explained a lot of the difficulties I have brought into the human relationships in my life; particularly with those I love the most.
The stench of my unshoveled issues overpowered the fact that I shared a beautiful lawn with more people than just myself. So, like the literal practice of scooping, bagging and disposing of the morning doo-doo near my grassy meditation spot, I do my best to bend down every day and do the work of shoveling up the personal garbage I’ve allowed to fester. And just like when I first began taking care of the backyard accumulation issue on the regular, I’m often frustrated that there is so much and I curse myself for having neglected it in the first place… However, I’m learning the uselessness of that. Regret doesn’t make what you don’t want to carry go away. Only the work of addressing it can do that.
When I dropped what was, for this morning, the last tightly-trussed bag of Chester’s intestinal handiwork into our alleyway trash bin, I thought of all the spring and summer road trips from my childhood. With no automobile air conditioning in the early 1980s, my family would rocket down rural country roads with the windows down, fully exposed to the nostril-puckering aroma of freshly spread manure on the soybean fields of southeastern Minnesota. The memory seemed to put a fine point on the day’s contemplation and I smiled to myself, acknowledging not only what our ancestors discovered when they first domesticated goats and started dropping gourd seeds into holes they dug in the mud – but also the source of countless human works of art, music and literature: Dealing with crap is the best way to fertilize beautiful and necessary things... It’s hard to think of better work worth doing.


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